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Oklahoma man charged in students' death appears for hearing

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — An Oklahoma man arrived in court Friday for a preliminary hearing on murder charges for allegedly driving his pickup truck into a high school cross-country team in suburban Oklahoma City, killing three members.

Max Leroy Townsend, 57, faces three counts of second-degree murder in Cleveland County District Court for the February deaths of Yuridia Martinez, 16, Rachel Freeman, 17, and Kolby Crum, 18, in Moore. He also faces charges of leaving the scene of a fatal accident and leaving the scene of an accident with injury.

Five other members of the cross-country team were injured when police say Townsend was driving nearly 80 mph (129 kph) in a 25-mph (40 kph) zone, crossed two lanes of traffic onto a sidewalk and crashed into the runners outside Moore High School.

Townsend previously pleaded not guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the case before District Attorney Greg Mashburn upgraded the charges this month to second-degree murder.

“He had extreme disregard for human life,” Mashburn told The Associated Press a day after upgrading the charges. “I don't think he cared who or what he hit.”

Mashburn also noted that while both first-degree manslaughter and second-degree murder carry potential life in prison sentences, the minimum sentence for the murder charge is 10 years and the minimum for the manslaughter count would be four years.

Mashburn dismissed a driving under the influence of alcohol charge, saying toxicology tests failed to show that Townsend was above the legal limit of .08 blood-alcohol content.

The day before the crash, Townsend’s 29-year-old son was killed in a multi-vehicle accident in Moore.

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